- From DNA to NSA can be seen at the Complejo Cultural La Merced, from 27/10 to 5/11.
From DNA to NSA is a multi-format proposal, which is part of the collective art project NSA, initiated in 2014 by Maite Cajaraville (Spain) and Gisle Frøysland (Norway). As an installation-action-intervention, it consists of creating an artisanal laboratory to extract DNA strands from the visiting public. Using common household products, the public can follow a simple DIY (do it yourself) process to visualize their DNA strands. The homemade lab serves as conceptual proof of how easy it is to violate privacy.
In 2000, the Icelandic government granted the rights to scan the DNA of all its citizens to the company DeCODE, which believed that the genetic homogeneity of its inhabitants, mixed with other phenotypes, could be of great interest in the study of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
The company was granted exclusive exploitation rights for 12 years, with a commitment to share the profits from the research with Icelandic society. In the middle of the granted period, friction arose between the company and the government, due to disagreements over the level of privacy required. The dispute culminated in 2007 when, five years before the end of the exploitation period, the Icelandic government decided to suspend access rights, claiming that the anonymity of its citizens was being violated. Since then, DeCODE has restricted access to a specific subset of the data. Subsequently, the company went public to avoid bankruptcy, reaching a value of USD 485 million through the integration of international investment companies. After several phases, the Icelandic data was taken over by a Chinese mining company, which now markets the Icelandic DNA information under the restrictions and rules of anonymity.
This story raises many questions:
What is the market value of their DNA? What business model generates DNA? How do they work with it? How can individuals’ information be used? What are the data protection mechanisms that governments can ‘guarantee’ to citizens regarding their DNA? How can a company operating in a global market be trusted? What benefits did the Icelandic state derive from its ‘deal’ with DeCODE? What are the implications if the data can be inherited by other companies? Can China learn more from the Icelanders than they do? Will China copy the Icelandic DNA model and create blond, blue-eyed, Icelandic-minded cyborgs? Perhaps everyone’s DNA data should be opened up, as in a new social network where your friend is the one with the DNA most similar to yours? Will DNA-based algorithms be the new rulers of our social life? If the NSA (National Security Agency of the United States) is very interested in our private lives, is it even more interested in our DNA chain? Is Faustus referring to this new gadget when he talks about selling your soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life?
About Maite Cajaraville
Maite Cajaraville (Llerena, Badajoz, Spain) is a multidisciplinary artist, specialized in electronic art, audiovisual performance and installation. Her works seek to subvert social imaginaries through interaction with the public and to bring the works closer to everyday spaces. Since the 1990s, she has combined her artistic production with cultural production and curating. Since 2014, she has curated the Piksel Festival, which focuses on electronic art and digital freedom, emphasising the use of free technologies.
Maite Cajaraville has exhibited her artistic projects at the Centro Pompidou (Málaga), Cáceres Abierto, Matadero Madrid, African Photography Initiatives (Cameroon), Pikslaverk (Iceland), Digital IA (Poland), RIXC (Riga), Centro Centro Centro (Madrid), Arte Alameda (Mexico City), Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía, Medialab-Prado, Venice Biennale, Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo (Badajoz), Sónar, MACBA, Fundación Telefónica and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), among others.
About Gisle Frøysland
For more than two decades, 220hex / Gisle Frøysland (Bergen, Norway) has been one of the key figures of the electronic arts scene in his country. Since the early 1980s, he has worked as a musician, VJ and visual artist. He is a founding member of BEK, the Bergen Electronic Art Centre, and founder and director of the Piksel festival for electronic art and free technologies, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022.
Gisle Frøysland has received major grants and has had numerous exhibitions, many of them in Norway, but also abroad. Her work has been presented at several international festivals, including Electrohype, Dissonanze, Transmediale, Borealis, Ultima, MakeArt, Pixelache, Mal au Pixel and Electropixel. He has collaborated with KKNull, VuNhatTan, John Hegre, Lasse Marhaug, BAKtruppen and Motherboard.